My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

March 2, 2009, Amherst Meeting

I want to start by commending our new Interim Superintendent Maria Geryk for preparing the most thorough and thoughtful data presentation that I've seen in the two years that I've been attending (either as an audience member or a School Committee member) School Committee Meetings. She started this job on Friday, February 27th, and led tonight's meeting in the most clear and organized manner that I've seen this year. I was extremely impressed at how she was able to step into this situation and handle it so well.

This meeting was spent talking about two key issues: updated budget scenarios and potential redistricting scenarios. I believe these documents will all be posted on the website soon, so I'm not going to go through all the numbers (and mostly they are the same anyway). But briefly, here are the major cuts at each level:

Tier 1: These are cuts that would DEFINITELY be made

2 classroom teachers (somewhat larger class sizes in 1 5th grade and 1 6th grade) - $108,000
1.7 instrumental music teachers (probably meaning some type of delay in offering this type of music instruction) - $91,800
1.7 intervention teachers (math, English Language Arts) - $91,800
.80 computer teacher - $47,000

There are other cuts, but those are the ones that likely have the most classroom impact.

Tier 2: These are cuts that might be made (this is the "medium level" scenario)

Science coordinator - $54,000 (this means no science coordinator for K to 6 at all)
Librarian - $54,000 (I believe two schools would then share a librarian)
.70 Instrumental music - $37,800
4.5 intervention teachers - $243,000 (1 ELL, 2 ELA, 1.5 Math/ELA)
Computer teacher - $54,000

There are a few other cuts, but these are the ones with the biggest impact.

Tier 3: These are the cuts that represent the WORST CASE

4 classroom teachers - $216,000
.80 instrumental music - $43,200 (meaning the end of instrumental music)
3 more intervention teachers - $162,000 (1 ELL, 2 ELA)

Again, there are a few other cuts, but these are the key ones.

Next, the committee heard about three redistricting options: keep 4 K to 6 schools and redistrict to achieve equity, close MM and keep 3 K to 6 schools, close MM and keep 3 K to 5 schools (move 6th to the MS). I was very, very impressed with the considerable work that Doug Slaughter has done to create literally two different maps, and we got data on not only what the districts would look like, but also class size information. I am going to hope this stuff is all posted on the ARPS website, so I'm not going to repeat it here, but here are a few "highlights":

If you keep four schools, you can NOT really manage the kids in the four buildings -- because you are always going to run up against the issue of MM being very small. So, this redistricting plan has 13 classrooms being used in MM, whereas there are only 12. It also still involves moving kindergarteners from MM to other schools, which I just think is a really bad idea (why create two transitions in two formative years -- preschool to K, K to 1?). This plan does, however, create schools that range in terms of kids on free/reduced lunch from 31.7% to 35.9%, which is a WHOLE lot better than our current spread (22% to 60%). The class sizes are good in this model (range from 13 to 24). Two things I note: the class sizes in MM are VERY small in this model -- only 13 or 14 kids per class in several grades in this school, which is much smaller than those seen in the other schools. This plan uses 72 classroom teachers -- which, for the record, is 3 MORE classrooms than we now use (meaning an additional $150,000 PLUS per year), and 2 MORE classrooms that we would project using next year without redistricting (meaning an additional $100,000 a year).

If you close MM and have 3 K to 6 schools, you run up against needing 19 classrooms in CF (22 in WW and 22 in FR). Although CF only has 16 classrooms, you'd move the portables, which gives you 18 classrooms, and then you could either have 2 kindergarten classrooms instead of 3 (they have projected 3 to get to the 19 classrooms but several grades in CF have only 2 classrooms needed), OR you could bus those kindergarteners to other schools (like we already do now for kids at MM), OR you could use one of the preschool classrooms (although the principal of CF, Mike Morris, cautioned against this, based on projected needs). This model gets you good equity (range of 29.5% to 35.9%), and class sizes ranging from 17 to 24. This model also uses 62 or 63 classrooms -- which is a TREMENDOUS cost savings (again, this was never acknowledged, but this is where you get the major savings). So, if you pay, on average, a teacher $50,000, in this plan with 3 schools, you save about 8 or 9 teachers a YEAR (which presents close to half a million dollars once you add in benefits). The schools are by no means "over-crowded" in this model -- both FR and WW can have up to 24 classrooms, meaning you aren't even at their maximum.

The third model is the close MM and move 6th grade to the MS. This model works at a practical level (because you've moved basically 200 kids to the MS, so there is more room). This model creates good equity (31.2% to 38.8% free/reduced lunch), and good class sizes (range of 17 to 24). This model uses 62 or 63 teachers (54 for K to 5, and probably 8 or 9 more for 6th grade). So, the money in this model is the same savings as the model with keeping 3 K to 6 schools -- as I've written about before, the cost savings here comes at the regional level -- you can then pay some of the administrative staff in that building from the elementary budget (which might let you keep world language in 7th grade FOR EXAMPLE).

Let me make one thing very clear: at the outset of this presentation, the Superintendent said that she and the principals do NOT recommend making any changes at this time -- they prefer to keep four schools open, not redistrict, and just make the necessary cuts to reach whatever budget scenario that we end up reaching (with the possible caveat that at Tier 3 cuts, anything is on the table) .

OK, so thus far, I've been just giving the facts. This is now the opinion time of my blog, so stop reading if opinions bother you in the blog setting.

First, it is very, very clear to me that we have a long-term structural deficit in our schools. We spend more than we have, and thus EVERY YEAR at this time, we start going through what we can cut, bit by bit by bit. This seems awful for many reasons -- anxiety-provoking for the community, disrupts morale in teachers/adminstrators, wastes time that should be spent focusing on curriculum, etc. This deficit is real, and lasting, and it isn't going away. And it is very, very clear from these numbers that (1) we do NOT need four schools at this time, or in the foreseeable future, and (2) keeping four schools is costing about half a million dollars EACH AND EVERY year. And that isn't just "magical" money that we can find looking under seat cushions, etc. Paying to keep four schools open takes money that we are then NOT able to spend on other things. So, what do you get for half a million? Well, I'd start by adding the FULL instrumental music program (this adds 91,800 at Tier 1), and the two intervention teachers (this adds $91,800 at Tier 1). And then I'd think about adding back some of the other cuts we are experiencing -- guidance counselor at WW, cafeteria paraprofessionals at FR and WW, two classroom teachers, and so on. Basically, you can get a lot of stuff for half a million dollars -- and this is half a million EVERY YEAR.

Second, it is very, very clear to me that we have a massive problem with equity in our schools. It is ridiculous to have schools that range from 22% to 60% on free/reduced lunch. We admit it is a problem (we on the board, those in the administration, and I imagine/hope many in the community). But gosh, it is scary to actually doing something about it -- because families will be upset. And I get this - the redistrict model that closes MM and moves to three schools moves my three kids to CF from FR. We bought our house in the FR district so my kids could go there, and my kids have friends who would NOT travel with them to CF based on where they live, and I co-chaired a giant playground installation TWO YEARS AGO at FR that I assumed my then 3-year-old would get to play on at recess. Sure, it would be upsetting for my kids (including my 5th grader, who would move from FR to CF to MS in the span of three years). But I find it upsetting to look at the maps now and realize how we are creating such massively different elementary schools.

Now, we heard lots of talk about taking time to study this issue, hear community input, get parent buy-in, etc. And I'm going to just come out and say it -- I think it is ridiculous to sit around and study this when we are talking about saving half a million a year at a time of massive budget cuts. By closing MM, and keeping the K to 6 in the three schools (I'm frankly convinced for now that keeping the 6th grade in the elementary schools makes sense for now -- though I remain really, really concerned about what we are going to do for the regional budget to get back 7th grade language and avoid two study halls per year in the HS), we could reduce our ANNUAL structural deficit and we could create equity. How much talking should we do? It is never, ever going to be easy or popular to redistrict -- that's why it hasn't happened since like 1973 (even as things got less and less equitable). And it is never going to be popular to close a school. So, it is always easier for SC members to say let's study this some more, let's see how it goes, let's talk to the community, etc. But while we do all this talking and pondering, we are cutting half a million dollars worth of real services to our kids -- basically reducing the rich instrumental music program by half (and how much of an orchestra/band experience will there by if you can only take music in 6th grade, for example?) and cutting support services for our neediest students (those in need of interventions services) -- and living with a total lack of equity in our elementary schools. I understand that I'm likely alone on the committee in having this view -- again, my wiser colleagues are keeping their mouths shut -- but I believe as an elected official, I have a responsibility to make fiscally responsible decisions and I have a responsibility to look out for our core values. To me, that is creating equity in our schools, maintaining a rich instrumental music (cuts to this program hurt our disadvantaged students the most), and providing appropriate intervention services to those who need them. I just don't see having four elementary schools as a core value (and I know there are MM parents who feel that keeping this school open is essential, and I respect this view -- I'm just saying what I feel). I imagine my fellow board members aren't ready to take what they see as a drastic step, so don't worry -- this is just one lone board member blogging. But to me, this is honestly a really easy choice: save a half a milion dollars a year that we can use to providing core services/programs AND create equity in our schools. I just don't need more time to evaluate this choice.


Neil said...

If $500,000 per year can be spent on programs for students instead of school administrative overhead, it must be given serious consideration this year, not next.

You are on a school committee that is advocating for status quo. Status quo is not acceptable for closing the achievement gap and not acceptable for inefficiently allocating resources. Resource allocation must be leveraged toward the student experience.

Anonymous said...

If that is your choice, how do you propose to efficiently close MM and make all the needed changes before the beginning o the next school year? How are senior MM teachers going to bump teachers in other schools with less seniority? How can 6th graders be transitioned to the middle school when registration or 7th grade is this month? even if closure of MM is the ultimate plan, more time needs to be used to accomplish the change in an efficient orderly manner instead o a rushed, half-assed way. These are just some of the issues with making a hasty change without long-term planning for the future.I just don't see it happpening by August!

Neil said...

Anonymous, what is your choice? Does your choice address the budget/expense gap in the necessary time frame with all due diligence?

Alison said...

Catherine, I share your thoughts on the organized and to-the-point running of the meeting by Maria Geryk with help from Rob Detweiller and Doug Slaughter. Very refreshing! They clearly get it.

I was frustrated, however, with the "business as usual, let's wait and talk things over" attitude. Both about potentially closing a school but also about redistricting.

Kathleen made points relevant to both. When discussing the reduction of instrumental music from 3.2 to 1.7 FTE, she tried to ask "so these few music teachers are going to have to discuss which one of them is going to be gone?" I saw the same logic applies to the principals weighing in on the closure of Marks Meadow. We now have four schools and four principals. If we closed Marks Meadow, we would have three of each, meaning one of them would be out of a job. I can't imagine anyone could be objective in that situation. Meaning no disrepect to our principals (it is exciting to see four engaged, intelligent leaders), someone else needs to make this decision.

On the note about the schools being "crowded to capacity" under the three schools K-6 scenario (especially Crocker Farm), I know that Fort River used to house more students and also housed the preschool. We used to use the East Street Annex for classrooms, often for a "fourth grade abroad" which the kids loved. I realize that school is now being used for some alternative high school program and am not familiar with whether or not that will be continuing under the even-more-dire regional school budget situation, but perhaps that could be considered as an option. It could relieve some of the crowding at CF without further crowding the kids at FR.

Back to Kathleen's points...I agree with her that the inequity situation has gone on too long and something CAN get done this year if you make it a priority. I think that redistricting now is the only right thing to do, so first the School Committee really needs to make the most difficult decision--are we going to have to (because of low enrollments, budget, or both) close Marks Meadow in the next five years. If the answer is yes, close it now so we can redistrict and address the inequity issue immediately. Or commit to closing it after the 2009-2010 school year and redistrict then. If the decision is made to keep Marks Meadow open indefinitely, redistrict immediately under the four school plan. Budget aside, the inequity is a very real problem that is not going away.

I also urge you to consider the cessation of busing ELL students next year and examine how that will help address some of the inequity problems as well as better serve the needs of those students.

Anonymous said...

In summary, it looks to me (as a parent of regular ed kids) - like it is a choice between

1) Cutting instrumental music and sped services and taking the time to plan out the redistricting carefully vs

2) Cutting MM and redistricting many many kids, potentially in a too-hasty plan.

If I could see a good redistricting plan set up soon (in the late spring), then I would feel comfortable with #2, as I believe MM would eventually have to be cut. And I agree with all previous posts that if you 'temporarily' cut music this year to reach budget goals, it will be very hard to get it back, even after MM closes. We should assume that more dire economic news is coming our way for several years.

I have to say that a short term view (and the easier path) is to pick #1.. I love my kids' school exactly the way it is, with just the mix of kids there are.. and I love that more than instrument music. And the selfish thing to say is that as a non-sped parent, cutting those services will not affect my kids as much as the ones who need the sped services (except for maybe having the sped kids in the classroom more).

But the more mature, long term view should be to pick #2- if there is a chance of saving music when MM is going to be closed eventually - then do it now. Sure, music may be on the chopping block next year, but we won't be regretting that we did not do all we could to save it.

Moving the 6th grade up to the MS seems like it can wait...until regionalization decisions are made.

Basically to make #2 happen, someone (like this amazing Maria?) has to come up with a well-thought out plan for redistricting. That will make everyone more comfortable about seeing how it can happen in a fair and equitable way. Only then will the other SC feel comfortable voting for redistricting this spring (but who knows what they will do anyways? But you can predict that without a good redistricting plan, they will just sit on their hands and pin their hopes on the new superintendent handling this NEXT year.

So.. let's see a plan for redistricting laid out - even if it doesn't happen this year, it will be good for the community/SC/school staff to start being able to wrap their minds around it. For a lot of people, not having a plan means they can't see how it will happen, they cannot visualize it.

Anonymous said...

Although I understand the maps that were drawn out last night are the beginning editions, one thing was very clear to me. If we close MM and shrink our districts down to 3, the kids at MM are split up between WW and FR, with FR getting most of the kids, not WW as previously thought. While this happens, the WW district stays pretty close to what it has now, adding North Village.

With this being said there was one other point made very clear to me. Crocker Farm becomes the MOST desirable school in the district!!! It is the newest, smallest and will have all/most of the Amherst Woods families there. These families have been saying all along their school is great and don't want to leave. Well now they are looking at a building which has real walls in the classrooms!!! It is a small school, something people have said that all Amherst Elementary schools are, but this really is, along with MM.

With the equity spread out over the 3 remaining schools, Crocker Farm does become the MOST desirable school in this town.
I need to know if this is the assumption that has been made this whole time?

Anonymous said...

What are the chances of being able to have one principal running 2 schools, sharing nurses and librarians? In other words, what else can we do to keep 4 buildings open, with MM having NO utility costs, I find that a MAJOR plus to keeping it open, having 2 small school options for the many kids in this town that need small buildings and NEED real walls in their classrooms!!!!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Neil - I agree. I think the status quo is comfortable, and this is a crisis. We need to act, and I think delaying is a mistake. But I don't think my colleagues share this view.

Anonymous 12:24 - first, if you read my post, I suggest holding the 6th grade in the elementary school. Then, you are talking about moving the 9 MM classroom teachers -- that just isn't that many people to figure out (there are teachers who move every year from school to school). I have every confidence that the administrative team could figure out how/who to move where ... just as they will figure out which two (or 4 or 6) teachers to let go if we don't close MM (already there are two teachers leaving on Tier 1). I'd suggest offering some type of retirement incentive to help with this.

Alison - I agree with your assessment of urgency. I also agree that we need to think about the ELL busing thing -- I have no idea where those plans are as of now and that is a good question.

Anonymous 6:58 - Hey, what a careful and thoughtful post - you should have signed your name! And the redistricting plan we saw last night was very good -- it included the % of kids on free/reduced lunch at all the schools, % of kids on color, % of kids who are English language learners, % of special needs kids, etc. It included maps, district lines, etc. So, I'd say we have such a plan -- and again, we could think about it and delay making a decision, but while we do that, we have very inequitable schools and are spending a lot of extra money.

Anonymous 7:09: I guess I'm not sure why CF becomes the most desirable school ... it seems to me that the beauty of this plan is that all of the schools are quite equitable? CF would be much larger than it is now -- 370ish students (double the size of MM!), compared to 460 or so for FR/CF. I don't see the 370 size as an advantage, frankly -- many of the FR/WW families have liked having more options in terms of teachers/classmate matching, and they would go to 2 options at some grades, instead of 3. FR also has a brand-new playground! My understanding is that several plans were considered, and this one was the one that best divided kids into different schools in an equitable way (e.g., based on free/reduced lunch).

Anonymous 7:14: We could certainly do some creative building sharing (e.g., principals, librarians, etc.) to keep four schools open. But remember, to find the cost savings, you have to cut about 8 or 9 people. So, it is not just a principal and a nurse ... it would have to total 8 or 9 people. And if this community felt that sharing jobs across buildings (meaning one principal, a librarian, etc. would be divided across 600 to 800 kids), we could do that. Again, I don't see having four elementary schools as a core Amherst value, but if families felt this was the best way to go, it is something we could ask the administrators to run. And just to clarify -- is CF (with a capacity of 375) a small school option, but FR/WW with a capacity of 450 NOT small schools? As a parent with kids in FR, I just don't find the half-walls thing that big a deal ... maybe some MM/CF families should come see how it can work just fine!

Jan Kelly said...


I have one logistical question about the numbers in Crocker Farm with the closure of MM. If I read it correctly (unable to attend due to a sick child) Crocker would be over capacity and need to add classroom through the portables. Does this take into consideration the need for breakout classrooms for Special ed kids who are out of the classroom part of the day.

Also some folks are referencing the cuts to sped services in Tier 1. Am I correct in understaanding that the cuts listed are to intervention/coaches? This is different than SPED services. My son has an IEP but does not utilize the coaches. These services are for kids in the regular program who need a boast. Dare I say that if we were to actually teach math instead of the investigations curriculum the need for math coaches to help students pass the MCAS would be greatly diminshed.

Joe said...

The information shared last night on redistricting was great. It just seems to prove that quality work can be produced in a short-period of time. Almost hard to imagine the redistricting analysis was communicated (I realize it is preliminary) without a “study” on what appropriate colors should be used on the maps or what columns to use in the tables.

Decisions need to be made this year on redistricting and the number of schools. Let’s not wait unless there is a very good reason that can justify delay. “Because there are many difficult decisions that must be made” and “because we ONLY have 5 months before the next school year begins”, aren’t enough justification for delay.

From my chair in the audience last night, it seemed like a majority of the School Committee members would support a redistricting this year. It also seemed like a majority agreed that a decision on Marks Meadow and the re-districting should be made together to avoid the potential issue of moving any kids more than once during the elementary years. The current draft budget proves in certain scenarios that Marks Meadow can be “saved” because we MAY not need to go to tier 2 or tier 3 this year. I understand that the closing of Marks Meadow isn’t included in any of the budget tiers at this time, but I think if the public and the School Committee thought the tier 2 or tier 3 cuts were the most likely scenario the idea of closing Marks Meadow would receive greater support. For those that don’t support or are undecided about closing Marks Meadow I would ask they consider the following:

1) The level of cuts required in tier 2 or tier 3 of the budget may not occur this year, but significant dollars will need to be cut over the next few years. Therefore the time is near that a decision WILL need to be made between “saving” a school and the quality of the elementary education for the entire town.

2) If you really believe in equal access to quality education for ALL elementary students in the community and you would agree we shouldn’t redistrict twice in the near term then please consider the benefits of redistricting to the Crocker Farm community. Until redistricting is completed, the Crocker Farm community continues to be treated “less equally”. Understand that the campaign to study the impacts and delay a decision on the closing of Marks Meadow also is delaying the redistricting. Should the students at Crocker Farm continue to pay the costs for the lack of action?

Time isn’t needed to study redistricting and closing Marks Meadow, these are issues of fairness/equality of education and the budget reality for the foreseeable future. Time is needed to implement these changes properly. The School Committee should demonstrate leadership and make the necessary decisions so as a community we can focus on implementation.

Catherine, it seems like you are comfortable with the data you have received to vote in favor of closing Marks Meadow and redistricting the schools. What is the downside to bringing these issues to a vote, say in four weeks? If someone doesn’t second your motion to vote, we are left in the same place we are today. If the vote is taken, but isn’t approved we at least know where the School Committee members stand and can work on specific issues. If the majority of the members agree with your motion we can move forward with implementation.

Anonymous said...

I might have just missed it, but one thing I didn't see addressed with redistricting is the grouping by language that is done now. Will this be discontinued? If not, we will still have the same inequity issues if kids are bussed out of their district, won't we?

Ed said...

A few random thoughts:

Portables - right now I suspect that UMass is paying the electric bill, which would not be the case if they get moved, and further you won't be on the back side of a UM transformer getting the bulk discount WMECO rate.

$50-$60K per teacher? Amherst does pay rather well, I am not so sure what the statewide median teacher salary is, but this is rather good pay. Remember that this is for an 185-day workyear and a 10-month contract (July and August off). A 37 week year versus the 50 that other jobs entail, so we are talking $67K to $81K which is above the state median HOUSEHOLD income...

I don't want to get into teacherbashing but it does seem that Amherst pays quite well -- my contract, adjusted for inflation, would only be half of what Amherst pays, and remember that the teaches laid off (or not hired) are going to be at the BOTTOM of the pay scale which means that those who have worked their way up (and over with advanced degrees) are doing VERY well...

Having said that - and I know that union issues would be a problem with this - a thought on the parttime coordinator position in things like science, music & IT. There are LOTS of UM Grad Students (myself included) who would LOVE to have an opportunity to do this to put on our CVs and if you could talk tuition waivers out of UM (likely possible) would probably do it for next to nothing....

Take just music and science. You have grad students here who are going to be trying to convince random faculty search committees that they know something about teaching the subject and an internship with the ASD would be noticed.

Amherst has been doing this for years with the fire department...

Finally, the issue of economic disparity between schools can not be placed on the schools. It is a much larger issue for which the Amherst Selectboard and the Amherst Housing Authority can be blamed.

We have Lower Lincoln Avenue and we have North Village, we have Amherst Woods and we have Southpoint/Boulders/Mill Valley. The town has not sought to intergrate low income housing amongst the million-dollar mansions thus creating the problem. The AHA has further excerbated it by violating HUD policies on concentration of poverty - there are limits on the number of vouchers that can be issued to the same census tract which are being overlooked for a variety of reasons.

So when you have 2/3 of Southpoint and 1/2 of Boulders and almost that much of Mill Valley consisting of low income subsidized tenants with children (and the rest being UM students), you have a ghetto that no level of logical districting can really resolve.

The solution is to build a low income housing development in the middle of Amherst Woods, like that will happen anytime soon...

And finally, what about all the paraprofessionals? They are cheaper but I am not sure that much and perhaps we should think about those budget lines in such circumstances...

Anonymous said...

From Anonymous 6:58

Jan, thanks for clarifying that intervention coaches are not sped teachers...(and for sharing your story in a previous post/thread) As a parent of regular ed kids who do not need any intervention services, this is all new to me.

And yes, Jan, I totally agree with your comment about teaching math in school. Maybe we can start a new movement "Add real MATH" (and it shouldn't cost more to the budget since it should be technically included already). Since Catherine always wants us to tell us what we would cut if we want to keep something, we'll say that we'll cut "Math, in Essay Form" (Seriously, my kid has to write a one-page essay to answer a question like 25+18. Just writing the answer "43" is actually counted as WRONG.)

And Catherine, what I meant by developing a plan for redistricting was to ask for more specifics than "Here are the new district lines" (which is an amazing HUGE step forward).

By a plan, I mean a plan with dates, a step by step list of how the plan will be carried out. (For example, by this date, the list of teachers will be decided and this will be the way we decide which teachers are kept, these are the incentives we are offering to the ones who leave voluntarily), specifics of physically closing/moving a school (of when the portables will be moved, how will the equipment be split up), etc. How and when will families be notified of their school district. Will there be a way for families to write a general letter to describe their child's learning style so that they can be matched well with a teacher, since many families will be at new schools and unable to foresee their kids in the next years' class.

And of course so many more details ... that perhaps Maria, Doug, et al can handle. The way she apparently presented a wonderful redistricted map is the way the actual plan for carrying out the redistricting should occur - by someone who can clearly plan. Versus a consensus situation where everyone in Amherst gets to chime in on how the process will occur and nothing actually gets done.

This way, the community will be able to see how there is a logical plan to carry out the huge effort of redistricting/closing a school. Just knowing that it's a well-thought out plan vs a haphazard last-minute rush move will help the community accept redistricting. Then people will start accepting that redistricting can happen before Fall 2009. Just as we have all gradually accepted the fact that huge cuts will be made, largely from reading your step-by-step thinking in the blog. We have gradually come to understand what those cuts should be and why.

Alison said...

Ed was questioning the figure used to represent the average teacher salary in all the budget projections. Just so happened, I had already looked up this information! This is what I found for average teacher salary:

State (including the eastern portion of the state with a higher cost of living): $58,257
Amherst: $57,930
Amherst-Pelham: $56,386
Pelham: $58,728
Leverett: $43,539
Shutesbury: $48,634

Outside our districts yet local:
Belchertown: $52,504
Frontier: $48,742
Granby: $53,023
Hadley: $40,306
Hatfield: $48,354
Northampton: $50,785
South Hadley: $53,236

Source is

The profiles also list enrollment and comparative teacher salary per student is:
State: $4,482
Amherst: $5,956
Amherst-Pelham: $5,437
Pelham: $5,572
Leverett: $5,403
Shutesbury: $4,402

Outside our districts yet local:
Belchertown: $3,467
Frontier: $4,728
Granby: $3,974
Hadley: $3,599
Hatfield: $4,511
Northampton: $4,034
South Hadley: $4,175

Abbie said...

Since the principals participated in determining the cuts, I have to wonder...

I would conclude that perhaps there isn't much value in the 1.7 intervention teachers (tier 1), the 4.5 intervention teachers (tier 2) or 4 classroom teachers plus 3 more intervention teachers (total 7.5; tier 3). I would conclude this because the principals have chosen this (plus the other cuts) way to balance the budget over closing MM.

My personal inclination was to *assume* that these intervention positions are needed to help those kids with the most needs to catch up or maintain their progress. But maybe I am wrong. If these positions aren't crucial or even needed, why do we have them? Why did we have to cut some of the music program last year?

If these positions are critical to the success of a reasonable number of students, then I would ask the principals how they could possibly could consider sacrificing some kids' success over keeping open MM (and keeping all 4 principal positions)?

I have got to weigh in on the math program--- it SUCKS!!!

I also have to weigh in on the 9th grade science course. It is vital that this is evaluated. Many years ago I switched from a private school to the public HS (10-12). Because I was in the private school I hadn't had biology. That meant that I had to take biology in 10th grade, which meant I couldn't meet the schedule for Biochemistry/Advanced Biology. Instead I could meet the schedule for Advanced Physics, which was wonderful and the reason why I chose Physics as my major in College. However, after several years I discovered my love was biology (hence wasted several years pursuing the physics degree). If I had gotten to take Biochem in highschool, I have no doubt that I would have chosen Bio or Biochem in college. The schedule MATTERS.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Abbie - I would love to see data on how the intervention teachers have helped. Even anedoctal data from parents of kids who utilize intervention teachers would be a step forward in helping the rest of us understand their utility. Even a nationwide study that has nothing to do with Amherst would be of some use.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

I'm back:

Jan: The CF school is projecting 16 classrooms for next year in the current system -- and 18 (the two MM portables) if we close MM. So, nothing else changes. I don't know this school well, but I assume that means they have different, dedicated classrooms for special ed/intervention type stuff. The change wouldn't impact those rooms. In terms of the cuts, you are basically right -- the intervention teachers are for kids who need extra help with MCAS stuff -- not SPED (except for a special ed para, who is cut, and a speech therapist at CF -- both of those are Tier 1 cuts). Finally, I'm not going to comment on the math thing here ... will save that for another posting!

Joe: I agree with all of your points -- maybe you should run for SC! Very well-stated. I do think the SC has been reluctant to take a stand here, and I think that is not the way I'd choose to go. I will seriously ponder the option you suggest. Thanks!

Anonymous 9:35 am: Thanks for bringing this up--I haven't heard anything about the busing, but that's a great point. I will ask for that data at the next meeting.

Ed: I do think U Mass now pays for the utilities for the portables, so yes, that would be a cost (though I bet it would come out to less than $687,000). I think the district needs curriculum alignment (horizontal/vertical), and that needs to happen first and it needs a full-time, experienced person in charge. But if we could get that stuff worked out, having more involvement from students sounds like a GREAT idea. Although you are right about the issue of housing in this town, I was amazed at the equity in the maps Doug provided last night -- they looked really, really equitable, and also basically sent kids (in most cases) to the most logical school (e.g., the one closest to where they live, which is NOT happening as much now).

Anonymous 12:46: I'm going to hold off on math until another posting! But thanks for clarifying your ideas-- they are really, really good, and yes, this is exactly the way we should proceed. I'll suggest this at the next SC meeting and see if I can get buy in from my colleagues.

Alison: Thank you, you go to data person!

Abbie: I'm holding off on math! I agree, as you know, with the need to evaluate the science curriculum. I'm hoping this will happen -- seems kind of ironic that it is hard to buy in to evaluate a science, when science is all about evaluation/research, right? I'm trying. Really hard. I believe someone else has made this point already -- it is not fair or appropriate to ask four elementary school principals to decide whether one of them loses a job. This is especially true when THREE of them are new. That is why you have a School Committee -- and it is why the School Committee, NOT the superintendent, not the principals -- ultimately have to approve a budget. As I've said repeatedly, it costs us $687,000 to keep MM open, and we can educate those kids in our current buildings. So, unless people can point to programs we have now (intervention teachers, instrumental music, librarians, etc.) that we don't NEED, it seems like closing MM is the logical choice.

Anonymous: I think Abbie's point (Abbie, correct me if I'm wrong) was that these teachers must be needed, right? And that really closing MM is the right way to save them? But I hope some parents whose kids have used these services will chime in -- I've certainly heard from some, but off my blog.

Abbie said...

Hi Catherine,

Actually my point was that if we "trust" the professionalism of our principles and they are choosing eliminating intervention teachers over closing MM, then one MUST assume these positions are not CRITICAL to the success of the children they now serve. This assumption is either correct (and we've been wasting a lot of money for several years and they should be eliminated) or it is incorrect and many kids (the number affected TBD) will now find school much more difficult. It would be an interesting question to ask the principles.

Ed said...

(Seriously, my kid has to write a one-page essay to answer a question like 25+18. Just writing the answer "43" is actually counted as WRONG.)

This is insane. I can think of no other word for it -- I thought I had heard every stupid idea out there, including "Calculus for third graders" (my sarcastic definition of it) but this takes the cake. And I am MS/IT and actually know something about the field...

Catherine, you have GOT to check this out, because if this is true, I could cobble together a curriculum in half an hour that would be better than whatever is passing for math instruction over there...

We can get into various philosophies of math instruction (which I won't here) but even the fringe crazies of all the camps don't go this far...

And if this is some twisted approach to "writing across the curriculum" then someone doesn't quite understand the concept that you get student to write about things they LIKE and for a vast majority of children, math ain't it...

And if any parents want to send me any actual documentation, I will get it into the next MMan newspaper (and it won't be the first time that the MMan exposed abuses in the Amherst K-6 schools).

Anonymous said...

As to the redistricting maps, I would strongly suggest that someone quietly give a copy to someone in the Amherst PD's Detective division and ask them to look at them carefully.

Bluntly: the business of marketing illegal substances is a big issue in town and you could be putting together neighborhoods that are not good to be put together. Not because of the children but because of their parents and older siblings -- and I think it worthwhile to vet the map through the APD for that reason.

Bluntly, you don't want a shootout in the parking lot of your elementary school. Think I am being extreme - I literally have lost count of the number of sawed-off shotguns (all loaded) found by children in and about the South Amherst apartment complexes...

Meg Rosa said...

Catherine and others,
I know you said that you were going to talk about math in a separate post, but I did want to chime in briefly about math in elementary.

I have noticed the math homework that my 3rd grader brings home and there is a LOT of writing involved. It hasn't bothered me so much, up until recently, as he brings home extra "regular" math work as well.(This is something that a few of the children ask for) Both of my boys have had the same teacher for 3rd grade and so have had fairly similar work.

This particular teacher also does something called Drillsters which really is all about learning the addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables. The kids do different stages, at their own pace, through the course of the year. Staring with 40 problems in 4 minutes and work their way down to 40 problems in 1 minute, in each group. The kids seem to really enjoy doing this and feel like they have really accomplished something when they pass one.

(Please correct me if I am wrong on this.) From what I understand, this is something that she does in addition to the curriculum so that the kids can learn their tables. From what I remember, she is the only one who does this.

Are there other teachers in the other schools who add programs like this in? Is this something we can add in to all classes in 3rd/4th grade, if there are not programs like this?

We have spent many nights with flash cards out in our house!!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3/4/09 4:28 p.m.

This is a very powerful post. I know from having lived in this area for many years that you are not exagerating in this at all.

Ed....the Amherst Housing Authority, (a group of mean spirited women) and the Amherst Selectboard are certainly to blame for the disparity in the ways children are housed and educated in this town.

Brava! for this revelation, but where does one go to undo this incredible and outrageous injustice imposed on the poor peoples of Amherst?

Becky said...

Catherine -- thanks so much for the incredible detail you provide about these meetings. I was home with a sick kid and couldn't attend last night. I don't see the redistricting proposals on the arps web site. Do you know if they plan to post them, or if I can see them anywhere else?
Becky Michaels

Neil said...

Let me make one thing very clear: at the outset of this presentation, the Superintendent said that she and the principals do NOT recommend making any changes at this time -- they prefer to keep four schools open, not redistrict, and just make the necessary cuts to reach whatever budget scenario that we end up reaching (with the possible caveat that at Tier 3 cuts, anything is on the table) .

It would be good to know the reasons behind this recommendation. They may be compelling. Hard to evaluate the recommendation without the reason.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Final responses for tonight:

Abbie: Great question -- I'll ask it at the next meeting, and forward it to the superintendent right now.

Ed: More on math later on -- this week or next!

Anonymous 4:28: I actually am not getting your point here ... can you clarify your concern here?

Meg: Thanks for sharing what sounds like a great approach to math! I think the math curriculum is getting more consistent across schools, thanks in part to good work by Mike Hayes (new curriculum leader). I'm on the math curriculum council, and will certainly raise this idea at our next meeting (April).

Anonymous 7:21: Again, I'm a bit lost here, so I just don't feel able to comment.

Becky: I've emailed the Chair of the Committee to ask if these maps are doing to be put on the website. I assume they are, but the point was also made at the meeting that this is very preliminary, not final, etc. As I noted at the meeting, you just can't make a decision about redistricting before you make a decision about keeping MM open (because otherwise kids could move twice -- e.g., once if we move to redistricting to four schools, then shortly after if it becomes clear that we can't sustain four schools and move to three schools -- thereby needing to redistrict AGAIN). Given that the administration has said they don't want to close a school at this point, that frankly means that redistricting becomes moot ... unless board members feel differently (you know how I feel, but I don't know where others stand). So, basically, I am thinking this is not something you/others should worry about -- though again, I think we are making a mistake to do nothing now.

Neil: The big concern they raised was the short time line ... needing to plan in relatively short order to close a school, move teachers, redistrict kids. They seemed to feel we didn't have enough time to do this well -- in all honesty, I just don't see this (e.g., we have the maps now, every year teachers move, etc.), but there may be things that would take longer. Again, as I've said repeatedly, it also seems to me that it will take some time to figure out how to make the assorted cuts if we do NOT close a school (e.g., how to get by with fewer intervention teachers, how to drastically reduce language, how to share a librarian between schools, etc.), and none of that sounds easy to me either.

Anonymous said...

What is the timeline for all of these decisions to be made? Is there a date in their contracts that teachers and others need to be notified by if they are cut? I hope this makes sense, its late.

Information Seeker said...

I want to go back to the sharing the principal question. As far as I can recall, the main reason for closing Mark's Meadow, is to save the Town the cost of the principal, nurse, guidance councilor and probably a couple other jobs. This has been said over and over again. So, I don't see the difference to keeping Mark's Meadow open or closing, if we have the possibility sharing principals. That is the big cost of that building.

I say we take a hard look at what it would look like to keep MM open, at least for this year to get through this crisis, while planning the closure (if that is what it will take) for next year; share a principal and nurse for a year and plan properly for the following year, including redistricting.

We could also look at School Choice, which brings money into the district to help balance out the losses by families choicing out.

This would also gives us time to come up with sound ideas of increasing revenues for the district. We may be able to make Marks Meadow a pilot school and get Federal grants. This building itself is FREE. We should take full advantage of that and not cut ourselves short by closing it. At the very least, for this coming year.

I fully understand the NEED to redistrict for equity, esp at CF. This is a MUST!! Is there a way to do something for this coming year while not causing town-wide changes? Change a few neighborhoods that would likely change with redistricting to balance it out a little more, until the full redistricting plan happens?

Honestly, it really does scare me to make drastic changes like redistricting and closing a school when we haven't made the effort for a full study first. I am not saying we haven't had the time, because frankly, this should have been started last year right after the ASOC finished its work. We have known for a very long time that the districts are not balanced. It should not have taken this long to start to do something about it. (I understand you have only been on the committee for about a year, this is more general)

A full study is a MUST in order to redistrict for the most efficient, well balanced plan. We need to do this right the first time. Yes, I do feel a lot of things need to be decided quickly, but we can't decide the wrong things too quickly. Closing a building and doing a full redistrict are NOT things that should happen this year. We can look at other options to get us through this year and give us the ability to plan appropriately.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 4:28: I actually am not getting your point here ... can you clarify your concern here...

Sure: Amherst has a lot of regional/national drug gangs who have claimed certain neighborhoods as their own. Latin Kings, La Familia, MS-13 and others -- are IN AMHERST as much as people may wish to hide under their Obama banners and not see this.

Right now the situation is stable - although the APD, which often has as few as 4 officers on duty - knows that it is seriously outmanned and outgunned (what do you think the "mutual aid" agreement with the UMPD was all about?).

You stir up the mix and you well could create a turf battle tha you don't want to be creating. You could get a battle between two neighborhoods over who is allowed to go to the school to pick up children and who isn't -- and that is what could lead to a shootout in the parking lot.

Remember that much of the gang activity is the live-in (but not officially) boyfriends of the women with small children with housing subsidies so when you rearrange which elementary schools these womens' children are going to, you might want to think about this.

The APD know where the gangs are, they aren't going to tell you, but since they are the ones in the middle of all of this, I suspect they would be willing to look at your maps and advise if you are combining two small parts of town that ought not be combined.

And note to the parents: yes, the drug/gang problem in this town is this bad. Amherst has all the problems of an urban city without the resources to deal with them.

Anonymous said...

Yes, gangs and drugs are a bad situation in Amherst but this is rediculous. The last thing these guys do is pick up kids from school, let alone have any interaction with the schools.
If we haven't had a problem at Crocker, with the multiple apartments from all over town being sent there, then this isn't a concern.

Derek said...

If the ultimate goal is equity, then greatly increasing the size of ALL schools by closing one is NOT the way to go. Study after study shows that while large schools can be successful, small schools are a much better learning environment for all, and particularly for students at-risk. The larger the school, the more likely that students from low-income households will struggle. The very students we are trying to help would lose out tremendously if taken from a small-medium sized school and placed in a large, (425-450 is too large by many standards), school.

Generally, when compared to larger schools, smaller schools foster stronger relationships between teachers and students. They create a better sense of community and mutual respect. Students may feel safer (physically and emotionally), since large groups can be overwhelming for many. Teacher, staff, and student morale tend to be higher in smaller settings. Student achievement is often higher, as is parent involvement, at smaller schools.

These observations seem to be made consistently across the U.S. and Britain, and while some large schools may produce these outcomes, smaller schools are preferable. Not that I'm for them, but look at private schools, they are small, and they perform well. This is not because they have better teachers or better students or more money, but because there is a more personalized and intimate learning environment.

To create three very large schools by closing Mark's Meadow would be a great disservice and an irreversible mistake. It would harm the student population that we are trying to bring more equity to.

In addition, once we close a building, we are stuck with three. Amherst is a very desirable place to live, and just because times are tough right now, does not mean that our population will not grow, and then what? More portables? Classes in hallways? New school? Please proceed cautiously.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 10:26 - I believe that teachers/staff who are at risk of losing their jobs are being notified. Which is really hard. But they have to be told, so that they can explore other options, obviously.

Information Seeker: I'm going to try to respond to all your points here! First, closing MM definitely saves in administrative costs (principal, nurse, etc.), but actually the BIG cost savings is that it reduces the number of teachers -- about 8 or so,I believe (again, about $400,000 in savings right there). But if MM couldn't close next year, certainly sharing some key staff is a good idea -- and one that is being considered (at least at the level of the librarian; I don't believe that sharing a principal has been discussed, but you should propose this to the SC at the next meeting OR on line if you think this is a good way to go). The redistricting plans actually looks good right now -- thanks to Doug! School Choice is NOT a good idea for us right now -- because once you commit to those kids, you have them for the rest of their time here, and you have them at that school. So, no one is really going to want to School Choice into MM when they know we might close it! And if we close it, we won't have much space for School Choice in the other schools. If we close it, we save $687,000 a year. There is NO WAY we would bring in that much School Choice money, nor would we have enough space in the other buildings to gamble on taking in lots of choice students. I also know that some people are really opposed to this idea because it takes money from other districts, which then seems kind of mean. Many people have looked at ideas for revenue, and there just aren't really big savings there. I have no idea what you mean about making MM a pilot school (for what?!?), and federal grants are (1) totally drying up, and (2) dedicated to low performing, urban schools. Amherst is not going to be getting a federal grant to keep MM open. I know the building is free -- but again, the cost of keeping it open is $687,000 PER YEAR! This is not free! I agree that we need to redistrict, but you can't do that neighborhood by neighborhood since we don't have space in any school for a whole neighborhood without moving other kids OUT of that school and into another school. It just isn't something that can be done bit by bit, and it also isn't something that can be done until we decide whether to have three or four schools. I just don't know what you mean by a "full study": we paid for a demographic projection two years ago, and this projection said enrollment was declining or stable in our schools. What else would we study? We can fit all the K to 6 kids in 3 buildings, create equity, and save close to $700,000 a year ... I just don't know what else we would want to know? And I FULLY agree with you that we should have solved this redistricting thing at least FIVE years ago -- I was on the ASOC and yes, it was apparent then and it is getting worse. But I think it is scary for committee members to vote for BIG EMOTIONAL THINGS (like closing a school and redistricting), so they just don't happen!

Anonymous/Anonymous: OK, thanks for clarifying! This is useful.

Derek: Thanks for your post. I have discussed the small school issue in other posts, but the gist is that what research there is (and the research there is is overall bad) says that schools of 400 are just fine ... they are actually considered small (in fact, our new superintendent pointed out that elementary schools in Miami are as large as 2,000 students). So, NO ONE in the field of education would consider a 400 to 500 kid school a "very large school." And lots of research actually points to the BENEFITS for low-income students of being in a moderate income school -- whereas right now, our kids at CF are at a school that is 60% low income. Closing MM and redistricting creates three schools that are around 33% low income. In addition, when/if we move the 6th grade to the MS, all three schools would be between 300 and 400 (right exactly in the ideal range). I would also say, as a parent with two kids at the LARGEST of the schools, Fort River, that this school has a very
"personalized and intimate learning environment." It is a very nice place, where teachers know students, principals know students, etc. Which I am sure is true for ALL the schools -- I just know this one the best. As you may or may not know, we did a demographic projection, and that revealed that enrollment is stable or declining -- for at least the next five years. And remember, at a cost of nearly $700,000 a year to keep open, if we are spending that PER YEAR waiting for potential increases in the size of Amherst (again, where would they live? there is a finite number of houses!), we would easily spend millions of dollars waiting -- which eventually would in fact pay for a new school (and one that we would own, and hence could repair, and one that could house more than 1 classroom in all grades). It is an expensive proposition to keep MM open at that annual cost because enrollment MIGHT increase at some time in the future (even though current projections reveal flat or declining enrollment).

Becky said...

Redistricting is necessary. However, it is foolish to do it hastily. It is a serious change and needs thoughtful study to be done in a lasting way. Just because we can make the map doesn't means little to me. Besides, if we really wanted to, we could begin to address the inequity issues now and maybe save a few bucks along the way. If we were to standardize enrichment and field trips across the schools, we could take a positive step while saving money by sharing buses. If we did joint after school programming and late busing, we could reduce costs and bring much needed programming to all. Let us not be foolish enough to put all of our eggs in one basket- that is if we are serious about addressing this issue.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone thought seriously about cutting the vice principals' positions in the elementary schools? I know that with so many new principals the vice principals may be thought of as invaluable, but in these difficult financial times I believe they are a luxury. Perhaps one vice principal or some veteran teachers could share the assistant principal duties among the elementary schools... has anyone considered this?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Becky - I share your belief that redistricting should occur, but I guess I'm puzzled as to why you don't think the maps presented on Tuesday were good? It seemed to me that these maps created three basically equal districts in terms of low income students, moved kids to the school closest to their home in most cases (saving time on the bus and some $$), and saved a lot of money by reducing the number of classrooms needed. It frankly didn't strike me as hasty at all -- what concerned you? I'm also not sure what you mean about your idea to increase equity by "standardize enrichment and field trips across the schools, we could take a positive step while saving money by sharing buses." I do know that class sizes in CF are already much lower than those in the other schools (by about 2 kids per class in every single grade), so in a sense, we are already providing that type of extra resource -- but I don't think this is enough. I am not sure how standardizing field trips increases equity? Are you saying we shouldn't allow some schools to have field trips that others don't? Like, I believe that MM 6th graders have a trip (I think to Washington?) -- should we refuse to allow that as a district? Similarly, I'm not sure how joint after school programming and late busing would save money -- we would have to bus kids to different schools, which seems like it would be expensive? I guess I'm just not understanding how those ideas would SAVE money!

Anonymous: I believe the idea of cutting vice principal positions has been proposed. As of now, these positions at FR and CF are only school year (not full year), and I guess they could be eliminated. But it then seems pretty hard for the staff in those buildings (with more than double the number of kids in MM) to have only one principal (when MM also has one principal). But I think some move towards a half-time VP, with that person also doing some intervention work or something, is a creative idea that might work -- but it wouldn't save that much money (since there are only three schools with VP anyway, and that would probably be a relatively small reduction in staff needed). But yes, this seems like something that should be on the table.

Anonymous said...

FYI Mark's Meadow 6th graders go the United Nations in June each year, after a large study of how the United Nations works. Which parents and the Parent Group pay most, if not all of.

The Way I See It said...

Catherine, in your post of March 5th you said that the biggest savings in closing Mark's Meadow was the elimination of 8 teachers' positions. As I and others have stated before, Mark's Meadow has some very experienced teachers AND most of their jobs are not going to be eliminated. Because of their seniority, they will take jobs from other teachers at the other three elementary schools. So please explain to me why this seems to be the centerpiece of cost savings, when in reality eight Mark's Meadow teachers will not lose their jobs? I believe, at most, it would be only a couple of Mark's Meadows teachers who might have insufficient seniority to trump colleagues at other schools. I realize that the school may have to close eventually based on the dire predictions of some people, but it will be regrettable if a quick decision is made without fully considering how Mark's Meadow should be a part of an equitable redistricting plan. As a matter of fact, Mark's Meadows' student population reflects the type of cultural and economic diversity that is the ultimate goal of any redistricting plan.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Once again:

Anonymous 12:21 -- thanks for that info! So, I don't agree with Becky that we should restrict schools' field trips for the sake of equity ... I think we should allow schools to develop field trips that fit the needs/interests of their teachers ... but that creating equitable schools best allows field trips to happen at relatively equal rates at ALL schools.

The Way I See It: I am going to assume you are a MM parent, yes? I do believe that one of the major cost savings -- as presented by the superintendent last Tuesday -- is the elimination of 8 or so classroom teachers, and yes, those would NOT all be (or possibly any) MM teachers due to their seniority. But it would be SOME cost savings because 8 teaching positions would be cut ... plus, of course, administrative positions. I think you are trying to make the points that the cost savings are not as great as if we were to cut more experienced teachers, which of course is true, but we can't do that! So, are you saying it is better/cheaper to keep all teachers than to get rid of 8 less experienced (less expensive) teachers? I don't see how that is more cost savings than my plan? The cost savings of 8 classroom teachers is being based on an average of $50,000 per teacher, which is definitely less than more experienced teachers make, so it is not that the projected cost savings are being based on particular (e.g., MM) teachers. I don't know if you attended the meeting on Tuesday, but a redistricting plan was presented -- and it seems to do precisely what we would want it to do. Did you find elements of it lacking, or do you believe that it is better if redistricting just takes longer?!?